Sunday, May 21, 2017

New Zealand day 7: Travel to west coast

We were moving to the next phase of our trip in New Zealand. Westland, the most sparsely populated district would be our next destination for next 2-3 days. The southern alps next to the Tasman sea with temperate rainforest is strikingly similar to our western ghats. But with snow clad mountains and glacier, it can be considered as a mix of western ghats and Himalayas!!

Snow clad mountains of westland
The first part of the journey was to retrace the path to Queenstown. The Wakapitu lake was again our companion for a good part of the drive. It required several stops as the lake was looking spectacular in the early morning. Tanu felt that it was time to get some portraits for her.

Tanu at Wakatipu lake
 The route we were taking was Te Anau —> Queenstown —> Arrowtown —> Wanaka —> Haast Paps —> Haast.

Wakatipu lake
At Arrowtown, we took a shortcut via Crown range road. At 3,677 feet , it is the highest main road in New Zealand. The road was steep as series of switchbacks quickly took us to the top. 

Switchbacks at Crown range road
Wanaka looked like a picturesque town. For us it was time to refuel the car as the petrol stations were far and few between.

At Crown range road lookout
We were again passing next to the lake!! This time it was lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. Lot of places to stop and enjoy. They journey was very slow but we has no issues!!

Lake Hawea
It was time to stop at one of the lookouts for lunch. The place was mesmerizing. Each time, when we thought that we had seen enough of lakes, there would be another beautiful one!!

Pristine lakes of New Zealand
We were now at Makaroa, the last settlement before Haast. Between them was the Haast pass, one of the three passes that crossed over to Westland. It was completely a forest drive. 

Forests of Haast pass
There were few places to stop on Haast pass. One of them blue pools. It was an easy 10-15 minutes walk that ended at the crystal clear water. We got the first “taste” of sandflies of Westland!! We had to be on alert to ensure that we had no bites.

Blue pools
We did a quick stop at Fantail falls. It was just two minutes walk. 

Fantail falls
Haast seemed to be smaller than the normal village in India!! Our place of stay “Bay road motel” was 15 km further from Haast. It was completely away from all the civilization. It was the most isolated place we stayed in New Zealand.

Our hotel at haast
We made a visit to Haast beach in the evening. We had to cross a small private farm before reaching the beach. A sheep was peacefully grazing in the field.

Sheep at Haast
Like many places in New Zealand, we were the only ones at the place!! Time to enjoy the solitude.
Haast beach

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Zealand day 6: Milford Sound

Milford Sound is usually described with adjectives like “one of the most beautiful place on earth” and “8th natural wonder of the world”. It is definitely on the itinerary of every traveler to New Zealand. Needless to say we were very excited on the previous day. For a change, the weather was expected to be sunny on that day. What else we need?

Milford Sound
Milford Sound is about 120 km from Te Anau. With lot of spots to cover on the way, we estimated about 2 to 2.5 hours of journey. 

Mountains on the way to Milford Sound
The first part of the journey was uneventful. Things started getting interesting as we stopped at Eglinton valley for some views.

Eglinton valley
Then came the mirror lakes. Needless to say it provided some nice reflection of the mountains nearby.

Mirror lakes
The scenery got better and better as the road passed through the mountains. We had climbed up to the highest point of the journey to cross 1.2 km long Homer tunnel. Since only one way traffic was allowed in this tunnel, we had to wait for our turn. It is said that traffic is allowed both sides during winter and spring due to avalanche risk for the vehicles waiting both sides. 

Waiting at Homer tunnel
The road then continuously went down to reach the sea level at Milford Sound. For the first time in New Zealand, I faced parking issue. I could not find any parking place even after searching for some time. I remembered a deviation a km before Milford Sound that seem to had some empty places. I dropped my family and drove back to the deviation. I could fine some place to park but had to walk back 2 km to the entrance. Luckily, I had put some buffer time and we could manage to reach the boat ride on time. 

Mountain view
As we walked from the parking lot to the Jetty, the beauty of the Sound was seen. Before New Zealand trip, I was wondering what was the meaning of “Sound” in the context of Milford Sound. Basically in geographical terms, Sound is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay and wider than a fjord.

Milford Sound
Cruise is one of the best and popular way to enjoy Milford Sound. Many operators provide this service and the journey usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours. Most of them go till the mouth of the Sound and return back. I had booked “Jucy cruise” couple of days ago on internet. It was a very simple process.

"Jucy" boat
The beauty of the place gets magnified as the boat makes its journey. When it rains, hundreds of waterfalls appear from nowhere and pour the water into the Sound. But on sunny days, two permanent waterfalls steal the show!!

Bowen falls
From the boat, mountains look huge and the waterfalls looked small though there were nearly 150 meters tall. You can then imagine the height of the mountains!!

Stirling falls which is 146 meters high
Milford Sound is beautiful irrespective of the weather. Each weather condition gives a different perspective of the place. It rains a lot in Milford Sound and even the tour guide mentioned it as a rare event to see perfect sunshine. That was good!!

Milford Sound from jetty
As the commentary continued we were immersed by the beauty of this place. The photographs do not do the justice at all!! It has to be experienced.

Mountains at Milford Sound
At the mouth of the Sound, we could see the coast of Westland. The Tasman sea looked amazing.

Tasman sea and the mountains
We were lucky to see Antacrtic fur seals, permanent resident of Milford Sound.

Antarctic fur seals
While returning back, the boat went very close to Stirling falls. So close that that we were splashed with the water from the falls.

Stirling falls
The base of the falls looked beautiful and the water was very clear.

The two hours on boat had passed very quickly. Food and drinks were supplied inside the boat (for extra cost, tea/coffee is free) but we mostly stayed on the deck for better views.

Stirling falls

Final words

If I plan again, I would consider going with tour operators though it was a nice drive to Milford Sound. Parking is a real problem in this area and we need to time it well with cruise timings. Buses looked very comfortable. The tours can be organized from Queenstown. They also stop at the viewpoints all along the way. But will be a long day from Queenstown(600+ km round trip). 

Sunday, May 07, 2017

New Zealand day 5: Glenorchy and Te Anau

From my earlier posts, you would have already noticed that New Zealand is the land of lakes. The 5th day of our trip also revolved around the lakes!! We would be driving along Lake Wakatipu for most of the time.

Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the most scenic routes in New Zealand. But for us, every road in that country looked scenic!! Glenorchy was about 45 km from Queenstown and the road goes next to lake Wakatipu. 

Road leading to Glenorchy
The stops were numerous as the route was absolutely beautiful. A major stop was at Wilson bay that looked like a nice beach!!

Wilson Bay
Bennet Bluff lookout provide some nice views of the lake.

The Wakatipu lake was really a big lake. Near Glenorchy, we also saw three islands - called as pig, Pigeon and Tree islands!!

It was not just the lake. The hills and forests were also equally beautiful.

Hills on the way to Glenorchy
From Glenorchy, we took the same road to come back to Queenstown. We had to go to Te Anau that was about 180 km. The first part of the journey was again on the same lake!! The views were different but still beautiful.

Our hotel at Te Anau was at the outskirts. That was not an issue as we had car at our disposal. Te Anau town was next to huge “lake Te Anau”!! 

Te Anau lake
The town itself is very small but beautiful. Tanu liked it a lot. Walking along the lake was quite nice.

It is photo time for Tanu
Tanu spent a long time playing in the garden. While going back, we saw and Indian restaurant and contemplated about having dinner at that time. But both price and menu were unattractive!! The self cooked food looked much better.

At park
We were quite excited before we hit the beds. One of the most beautiful place on earth was on the cards next day!!

Te Anau town

Thursday, May 04, 2017

New Zealand day 4: Queenstown

It was time to leave Mt. Cook. The place was so beautiful and I felt bit reluctant to move out!! But we had our journey to cover that day. After breakfast, we started packing our luggage in the car.

Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown
We retraced the route we took two days before along Lake Pukaki. Took a small detour to have a look at the Pukaki canal which I had missed while coming to Mt. Cook. 

Pukaki canal
On the way, we saw a deviation to lake Ohau. Since we had time, we took the deviation which lead us to the pristine Ohau lake. It was only us at that place and we enjoyed the solitude for some time.

Lake Ohau
The next stop was Omarama, place for gliding planes. Due to bad weather, it was not an option and we spent some time lazing around!!

Lake Ohau
Lindis pass had to be crossed on the way. It was a smooth drive in the grasslands. A lookout at the summit provided some nice views of the valley.

Lindis pass summit
After the pass we drove next to lake Dunstan to reach the town of Cromwell. Soon after the town the road passed through Kawarau gorge. Roaring meg hydro station was a place to take some snaps.

Roaring meg

Queenstown seemed to be a nice town. More touristy than Christchurch!! Being next to beautiful Wakatipu lake, it has to be so!! Having been used to empty highways of New Zealand, it took some time for me to wade through the narrow streets of Queenstown center before reaching our hotel “Pinewood lodge”.

Our place of stay in Queenstown
Queenstown is famous for adventure sports. It is the place to do bungy jumping, Jet boating, Rafting, biking, swing and many others. Our agenda of the day was to visit to Skyline Gondola. The guy in the hotel showed us a shortcut on a narrow trail to the Gondola entrance!! It was just 5 minutes from our hotel. That was quick.

Tanu in front of Gondola station

Along with Gondola, we chose to do luge ride. Though luge ride looked like a kids play, it was interesting!! 

With an average incline of 37 degrees, the gondola can be considered as one of the steepest lift. Once you reach the top, the view of the lake is simply amazing.

Queenstown and lake Wakatipu
The photos simply cannot give justice to the beauty of the place!!

Lake Wakatipu
A closer look at Queenstown gardens and golf course. A beautiful town, right?

Queenstown gardens and golf course
It was time to refill our food stuff (mainly vegetables and fruits) in Queenstown.